I came to Mile High Youth Corps nineteen months ago as an AmeriCorps Leadership & Conservation Corpsmember. I am now halfway through serving another 10 month term – this time as the Alumni Mentor for Conservation. I rove with all five summer crews in the field, meaning I’m exposed to many interesting people and places.

Of those sites I’ve visited this summer, one stands out, in part because I was given a camera that day to document the site. It was a Russian Olive removal project in an Adams County swamp located near a saw mill. I worked with a crew member named Stephan. The stand of trees we tackled was deeply shaded and the ground matted with black mud. We had to throw down logs around our work site simply to avoid sinking into the earth.

Stephan cut in the morning while I dragged out slash, down a path I had trammeled through the reeds. With waders on, I would dip into a canal to bring the tangled debris across the water, where it would be dumped near a chipper – I suppose we were on an island. Slowly we worked deeper into the swamp, and the sunlight grew flush in the negative space we exposed by cutting down trees. Pulling slash creates micro-stress across your back and down the back of your legs, as branches, leaves and thorns catch on roots, rocks and other trees, tugging you in many small directions and many small ways. With the distance growing that I had to travel dragging wood, we contemplated stringing together a raft to send our refuse floating down the water – but it was nothing more than an idea.


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Stephan and I certainly pushed each other. It was difficult for him to keep cutting if there was a lot of junk he cut in his way, so I was under pressure to make haste for his sake. I felt guilty when he “caught” me in the water taking a photo of some branches – a moment during production stolen for expression. But perhaps not stolen away from work, or, in opposition to working. Having the camera with me that day heightened my sense of the environment, and was a source of joy. It helped me come to terms with the density of green. In a way, ownership through photography anticipated, complemented and softened the task I had of conquering these trees in the physical realm. It helped me approach the day with more presence.

Many people see nature as an occasion for photography. Arguably, most experiences of nature are visual. Even when we go on hikes, for example, it is often with the aim to reach the top, to get the best “views” – the best views, of course, being void of human presence. Vistas that are befitting of postcards. Before working at Mile High Youth Corps, certainly my own experience of nature was visual. Now, it is more oriented towards the tactile. Whether cutting Russian Olives, digging trail, building rock structures, or even spraying pesticide, I’ve come to experience nature as something inextricably linked with human labor and society, not just something pretty to look at in the distance. But what made that day in the swamp so interesting was the combination of the tactile and the visual. With the camera, I could begin to express this new, more intimate, relationship with nature, expanding my sense of what is beautiful or worthy of attention. The unusual, watery, and quasi-industrial landscape; the hard work; the camaraderie – as well as my ability to capture my experience on film – all enriched my experience of that day. The feelings I fostered there I try to bring with me whenever I go into the field, and moving forward, into future labors and recreations.

The Royal Gorge Bridge still stands after a devastating fire that lasted six days burned through Canyon City’s famous Royal Gorge Park last summer. This fire burned across 3,200 acres and into the Royal Gorge Park where more than 48 structures were destroyed.  This summer a crew from the Mile High Youth Corps- Colorado Springs site will assist the City of Canon City with fire restoration and recovery efforts which will include seeding, adding erosion control structures, planting trees while controlling invasive species, and participating in a process called slash and scatter.

Slash and scatter is a process where the Corpsmembers will cut down nearly 3,500 burned trees into small pieces to create mulch which will then be distributed along portions of the burn scar area to assist in new growth and to control erosion.

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In addition to the slash and scatter process, the crew will build nearly 35 log and rock erosion structures, seed approximately 25 acres with nearly 825 pounds of wildflowers and native grass seeds to help stabilize the soil, and the crew will plant nearly 1,000 juniper and pinion pines to replace some of the trees destroyed in the fire.

The work of the Canyon City Crew will be focused on 65 acres along the County Road 3-A where the City of Canyon City dubbed this location as its first priority in the restoration and recovery process.  The majority of the crew which is made up of local Canyon City residents will spend five weeks camping in the back country restoring the famous Royal Gorge Park.

With the first cycle of Energy & Water ending we asked Alex Medina, an Energy & Water Corpsmembers, to reflect on his term. Alex will be returning for the second cycle of Energy & Water this month.


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What were you doing before you joined Mile High Youth Corps? 

Before I joined, I was working at a warehouse.


What were some personal goals you set for yourself when you first started the program? 

One of my goals was to become Corpsmember of the month.


What has been the most unexpected part of being at MHYC?

Getting along with everyone.  The more we got into the program the closer we became.


Has MHYC changed how you view your community? 

It has, I start to talk to people about energy efficient products and how it can save money and waste less water. I noticed a lot of people leave the light on and watch TV with no one watching it. It’s helped change my habits.


What are you most proud of about yourself since joining the program? 

I’ve learned to interact with other people and be more positive. I’m also proud of reaching my goal and becoming Corpsmember of the month.


Congrats on completing your first cycle of Energy & Water and we look forward to hearing about you and your accomplishments during your second term of service!

Over the past twenty-two years Mile High Youth Corps has served over 2,000 youth in our programs but never before has Mile High Youth Corps seen such a high volume of Corpsmembers returning as Crew Leaders. Over the next few weeks we would like to highlight those who have returned to continue their service with us. Before joining Mile High Youth Corps Bridgette had earned her degree in Environmental Science and was studying Spanish in Panama, Jacob was working for Energy Resource Center as a Weatherization Technician. Bridgette was on AmeriCorps Leadership & Conservation (ACLC) crew in 2012 and Jacob was on our Sawyer crew in 2012, then returned for our Fall Hybrid crew and again the next summer for our Sawyer crew. They both had positive experiences while working on their crews, Jacob said, “I really enjoy camping and spending time in the outdoors, but my favorite part is getting the opportunity to connect with other like-minded young people.” Their experiences are what made them want to become Crew Leaders. Bridgette said, “I had so much fun as a Corpsmember in 2012 and learned so much and I thought it would be cool to help other people achieve and experience what I was able to do.” Jacob wanted to lead a crew because he enjoyed the logistics and preparing for the camping trips. Having the responsibility of making sure that they  have everything they need is challenging and fun.

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Jacob is most looking forward to getting to know his Corpsmembers and hearing all of their individual stories. He also hopes to achieve a perfect safety record over the summer and become a more responsible, productive member of the community. Bridgette is hoping to have all of her Corpsmembers earn their education awards by the end of the summer and help people gain a better appreciation for the environment. After completing their terms here at Mile High Youth Corps Bridgette would like to continue her education and move on to graduate school, focusing in Natural Resource Management. Jacob is enjoying the work that he is doing now and taking his time working in his community, he does have goals of returning to school and focusing on a science major. Welcome back Jacob and Brigette! We are so proud of the work that you have accomplished as Corpsmembers and can’t wait to see you grow even more as Crew Leaders.

This past Friday, our Youthbuild Corpsmembers capped their nine-month term at MHYC with a graduation. They crossed the stage to celebrate earning a GED and/or AmeriCorps education award for constructing affordable housing. This was MHYC’s ninth YouthBuild graduation. Like past years, it was an uplifting day that brought together families, friends and staff to celebrate the achievements of these outstanding individuals.

YouthBuild member, Andre Charleston, spoke during the ceremony. “I encourage each one of us to continue to build upon the lessons we have learned during our time here. Everyone sitting here today has overcome obstacles and trials while being in the program. We’ve had babies, deaths, and challenges, which at times left us unfocused and unmotivated. Through all of this, we kept the faith and we are here today as over-comers.”

Andre Charleston gives his graduation speech Other speakers included MHYC Board Member, Dr. Ryan Ross, Senior Program Manager of YouthBuild, Eliska Champagne-Veselka and Regional Director for Metro Denver, Brigid McRaith. Richmond Johnson, another graduate, concluded the ceremony with a poem about his time here.

“YouthBuild listen, we are tomorrow. . .from what I can relate we’re capable of many trends and many things. As a team, we flourish on,” he recited. To read his whole poem, click here

Richmond Johnson shares his poem On Tuesday, YouthBuild began a summer school program for Corpsmembers who are still working to complete their GED. They were reminded that the dedication and resilience that pushed them to complete the regular term will be the same motivators for them to succeed in their tests and future initiatives. Congratulations to the class of 2014!

Here are more photos from the day:

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For more photos of YouthBuild, you can visit here.


I was living to learn now i’m learning to live,
dedicating my life to a world full of kin,
I open my heart’ it challenge the skin,
channel the skills, I’m prevailing a will,
willing to be unlike ever to live,
dedicating my life to a world full of kin,
I open my heart’ it challenge the skin.

Forever and ever dependent on better,
wont settle for less unless better is tested,
shoot for perfection full filling it’s essence,
I can not neglect it; I can not reject it,
if anything’ it’s well respected,
if anything’ that’s my perspective,
by any means’ I’m well invested,
being.. of tuned expression, with no discretion,
is all accepted, I emit direction,
through.. extended questions, inexpensive pleasures,
fundamental perseverance, considered in reconciliation,
but in all reality it’s really what you make it.

And this is my dedication to MHYC.


Ain’t no telling who you’ll meet at M.H.Y.C.

If MOST teachers had a hint of Nikki then we’ll all succeed,
in addition by 5 others: Noreen, John, Dave, Dan, and Fred
I’m grateful unlike any other you got the material through to me
like a knife through butter.

Ain’t no telling who you’ll meet at M.H.Y.C

Its honorable to state that my 1st construction instructor was a woman
and also a hard working non complaining group leader,
ex. When we went to our service project at Revision, not like monkey see
monkey do, more like if we were digging she would be digging too,
but all in all Becky I thank you. Reminder you can’t see until you seek ’cause

Ain’t no telling who you’ll meet at M.H.Y.C

Ms. Shawnetta I would be stuck trying to take girls out on 9 dollar dates
if your budget class wasn’t a competency, secondnized by minty like
candy after the wrapper and helping me equip sharper vision.

Ms. Marissa off top I love your laughter and I appreciate how you would get me
to smile when I wasn’t happy felt and showed me the ropes to get college prep’d
so along with every step on with the next,

Mr. Jason I have an interest in HVAC and dusty shoes I work hard so I’ll easily ruin one of 2, but knowing what to look
for in employment and or career and how to steal a job cause my presentation during an interview was script’d but to the sum of each I thank you for the advantage I have in the tense still I imply when I speak

Ain’t no telling who you’ll meet at M.H.Y.C

Like Eliska she got me in the me in the seat like it’s my bar mitzvah
a start to show the world I love her like my singular of children.
I open up the present like the night before Christmas finalize my gown so why you able get a picture Architects, Engineers

We are tomorrow like wise idols for the next day you each have the capability of world trade, even though we correlate don’t let it interfere with our colleague state from what I can relate we’re capable of many trades and many things as a team can we flourish on if not keep your head up stay positive and live well
and the ones I didn’t mention your still here[mind].

- A poem by YouthBuild graduate, Richmond Johnson. It was presented on June 20th, 2014 for the YouthBuild graduation.

On Friday, June 13th, Mile High Youth Corps had our first Alumni Summer Barbecue. Managed by the Leadership Council, the event brought program graduates, current Corpsmembers, and staff together for an afternoon of networking and fun. This informal gathering was a success, with 14 alumni attending. Participants were able to chow down on food, chat with old friends, or engage in exciting ‘getting to know you’ games, like Human Bingo. We would like to extend a big thank you to the Leadership Council for putting the event together, the staff who volunteered their time, and (of course) the alumni who showed up. Visit the links below for photos, and feel free to tag yourself or your friends! We hope everyone had a great time, and we’ll see you again next year! “I am personally blown away by the commitment of the Leadership Council and our advisors to striving for a successful event. I feel especially grateful to all the staff, Corpsmembers and alumni who attended the memorable and fun day.”—Claire, ACLC








I (heart) MHYC



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